New York Governor Signs Bill to Create Panel to Oversee NYRA

An omnibus racing bill with provisions that include creation of a new state panel to oversee the operations of the New York Racing Association has been signed into law by New York Gov. George Pataki.

"We're proud that this law includes our proposal and puts in place stronger oversight over NYRA which will lead to a higher degree of accountability, bring about lasting reforms, and promote public confidence in the racing and gaming industry,'' Pataki said in a Aug. 3 statement.

The measure also accelerates the process for the open bidding for the franchise to run NYRA's tracks, which expires at the end of 2007. It allows a panel to be created now – though the governor did not name the panel's members – to begin crafting how the bidding will occur; under the previous law, the panel would not have been created until next year.

The governor proposed the oversight board last year, but lawmakers rejected it. The governor pressed through the measure again this year. It will allow the state to "oversee, monitor and review all transactions'' by NYRA, a far-reaching power for the state to keep better tabs on the troubled racing entity that runs Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks.

The governor announced the bill's approval just one day after the federal monitor appointed to oversee NYRA as part of a December 2003 plea agreement between NYRA and federal prosecutors issued a glowing assessment of NYRA's operations. But the praise by Neil Getnick was sharply criticized later in the day by the Pataki administration's chief racing regulator, Michael Hoblock, who questioned Getnick's opinion of NYRA's internal improvements and said Getnick had refused to meet with his staff over the past year.

The new state oversight panel will have the power to review and approve or scuttle NYRA's capital projects and will make recommendations to improve NYRA's internal operations. It can make recommendations regarding NYRA's annual budget and financial plans, as well as security procedures and contracts with unions. It will be run by a five-person board; Pataki did not announce the board members.

In a written statement Aug. 3, Hoblock, chairman of the state Racing and Wagering Board, said the new NYRA oversight panel would "play a critical role in helping to bring about lasting reforms that ultimately will improve the quality of New York's racing product while at the same time foster in a new era of accountability and integrity into the sport."

Hoblock said his agency, which has battled regularly with NYRA in recent years, "looks forward to working as a partner with this new oversight entity with the goal of building the public's confidence and trust in our industry."

While the law adds new layers of oversight of NYRA, the measure also lets NYRA proceed with its video lottery terminal project at Aqueduct. Critics have questioned the NYRA agreement with MGM Mirage to manage and develop the VLT casino because it did not go through normal state bidding procedures; the new law essentially allows that process to be bypassed so that NYRA can begin work soon on the racino. The state gets a portion of the VLT revenues.

NYRA also gets a state pari-mutuel tax on wagers eliminated during this year's Breeder's Cup at Belmont in October.

For off track betting companies, the law will permit them to offer additional out-of-state thoroughbred racing via simulcasting. To push them to show more in-state races, the legislation gives OTBs a tax break for simulcasting New York races.